With a limited roster of players, injuries will be pivotal to the Toronto Wolfpack’s success in 2020.
Sonny Bill Williams. Obviously. Leaving aside his talent for a moment, what he brings to the club in terms of media attention, fan interest, sponsorship opportunities, and credibility for rugby league in North America are worth his salary alone. And, incidentally, the Toronto Wolfpack have never told the public how much he is actually paid, meaning the widely-shared sum of $10 million over two years is simply a result of speculation and a media feeding frenzy. That takes us back to the point that his presence brings an incredible amount of attention and interest, driving articles in papers and column inches from journalists well beyond the norm. As or his playing ability, his history in both codes speaks for itself.
James Cunningham, who played a huge role in Toronto’s 2018 Million Pound Game loss, in addition to a strong 2019 Super League season, might prove to be a signing with tremendous upside. His arrival has been somewhat overshadowed by that of SBW.
Brad Singleton, meanwhile, is hoping to recapture his enthusiasm for the sport and his form of the 2015 to 2017 years with Leeds. If he does, Toronto will have quietly picked up an undervalued but experienced prop.
ARRIVALS: James Cunningham (London Broncos), Brad Singleton (Leeds Rhinos), Sonny Bill Williams (Blues – NZ rugby union), rumours of a possible return of Canadian Quinn Ngawati.
Bob Beswick. The leadership he provided directing play on the field as hooker, heading up the squad’s strength and conditioning, and keeping players loose during their down time are three big reasons why his leaving will have a significant impact. As one of the original members of the Wolfpack in 2017, Bob had been with the club through every step of their climb through the league structure. He gave freely of his time to meet with fans and those eager to expand the game in Ontario, meaning his departure will be keenly felt off the pitch as well.
But choosing only one of the four departing players is extremely difficult, as the contributions on and off the field of fan favourite Ryan Brierley, vice-captain Ashton Sims, and burgeoning youngster Nick Rawsthorne can’t be quantified. Playing for the Toronto Wolfpack is about much more than just what you can bring to the field.
DEPARTURES: Bob Beswick, Ryan Brierley, Nick Rawsthorne, Ashton Sims
1. Gareth O’Brien, 2. Matty Russell, 3. Chase Stanley, 4. Ricky Leutele, 5. Liam Kay, 6. Joe Mellor, 7. Josh McCrone, 8. Adam Sidlow, 9. Andy Ackers, 10. Anthony Mullally, 11. Andrew Dixon, 12. Bodene Thompson, 13. Jon Wilkin, 14. Darcy Lussick, 15. Gadwin Springer, 16. Tom Olbison, 17. Blake Wallace, 18. Brad Singleton, 19. Gary Wheeler, 20. James Cunningham, 21. Sonny Bill Williams, 22. Greg Worthington, 23. Hakim Miloudi.
WHAT TO EXPECT
It’s all going to come down to the ever-unpredictable injuries. While that’s true for any team, Toronto are currently carrying 23 players (one of those, Greg Worthington, currently out on loan to Featherstone Rovers getting match fit), and at one point in 2019 had eight men sidelined. This could mean players out of their usual positions, or still on the pitch while they should be recuperating. They don’t have the luxury of a deep bench.
Early games will see the Wolfpack trying to gel as a team, with initial excitement and adrenaline likely bringing home a couple of wins, but until players have their timing right and can predict where teammates will be, expect some unforced errors to be punished at the Super League level. They won’t want to have to rely on any kind of home field advantage in order to remain above relegation, so the Wolfpack will need to play at a 0.500 pace or better while in Europe.
Their first five games are against the top five Super League teams of last season, so picking up some points will be absolutely crucial if they don’t want to spend the rest of the year playing catch-up. But other teams will be looking to make their mark against the Wolfpack, just as happened in the Championship. Opposing teams produced some of their best efforts when facing off against Toronto last year, and that will continue. There are no easy games this year for the Pack.
Almost all of the players have experience in either the NRL or Super League, so it will be the transition of those facing if for the first time that will be interesting to watch. While they will undoubtedly be well prepared by head coach Brian McDermott, and tutored by experienced veterans like Jon Wilkin, the best teacher is experience.
Will Blake Wallace’s quick break and elusiveness translate well to the top level? Will Greg Worthington’s uncanny ability to always be in the right spot defensively remain true? And for those who have been away from the top flight for a while, can they quickly readjust?
This is going to be a fun season to watch.
Leading Tryscorer: Ricky Leutele
Leading Pointscorer: Gareth O’Brien
Player of 2020: Andy Ackers